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Reflecting on the Chilean Crisis: Making Inequality Visible  

Gonzalo Bacigalupe is a Professor of Counseling and School Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a member of the research team at CIGIDENone of the Global Resilience Research Network’s (GRRN) partners, based in Santiago, Chile. On November 14th, Dr. Bacigalupe delivered a talk at the Global Resilience Institute about the current political crisis unfolding in Chile. 

In 1960 a devastating earthquake-induced tsunami struck central Chile. In the aftermath of this disaster, it was revealed that the nation’s disaster management practices lacked evidence-based research that could have reduced the death toll and subsequent economic consequences. Recognizing this need for applied interdisciplinary disaster risk reduction research and communication, CIDIGEN was created in 2011, based at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. 

From left to right: Angie Valencia, GRI Associate Director of Operations & Chief of Staff; Dr. Stephen Flynn, GRI Founding Director, Dr. Gonzalo Bacigalupe; Liz Allen, GRI Post-Doctoral Research Associate; Scott Pickens, GRI Director of Marketing & Development Operations; John Ortiz Martinez, GRI Business Analyst

Dr. Bacigalupe returned to Chile four years ago to work with CIDIGEN and began spending most of his time there after receiving a grant to continue his research. The initial five years of CIDIGEN directed its efforts towards reconstruction and mitigation following natural disasters, and the latter years have been focusing on resilience-related research and socio-political consequences of extreme weather events.   

The primary focus of his lecture was the crisis in Chile, characterized by weeks of intense, sometimes violent nationwide protests calling for a new constitution to be written for addressing the social and economic inequalities pervading this South American country. What sparked the public outrage and large-scale looting and vandalism was the Minister of Transport’s announcement of a hike in subway fares. Following this, an act of civil disobedience on social media led by school students quickly snowballed into mob violence in a country previously known for its political and economic stability.   

The protesters called for a new constitution to be written to address the social injustice in Chile. It’s current constitution dates to the 1980s written under General Augusto Pinochet, the dictator who ruled the country from 1973 to 1990. It hasn’t undergone any reformation since that time and is regarded by many as highly anti-democratic in nature; reinforcing human rights violations, refusing to recognize indigenous communities, and creating conditions that enable rampant corruption.   

Dr. Bacigalupe described the ways in which the Chilean government displayed a lack of expertise in crisis communication, which only added to the fury of low-income citizens, who represent most of the Chilean population. They are fed up with the rising cost of utilities, low wages, and inadequate pensions. President Sebastian Piñera has yet to announce what policies he intends to include in the new constitution tmeet the demands of the protesters. The talk provided GRI students and researchers with a deeper understanding of the ways in which individual citizens and Chilean academic institutions are impacted by the current crisis.